March 3, 2022
IN THE NEWS: UCI Health launched its COVID-19 recovery program April last year to address prolonged COVID-19 symptoms. Since then, with each new variant and increase in positive cases, more patients seek treatment for ongoing health problems, including fatigue, cognitive problems, chest pain and shortness of breath.
Dr. Jaclyn Leongboard-certified UCI Health intern and co-director of the UCI Health COVID Recovery Service, recently spoke with the Orange County Register (OCR) about what she has seen in patients suffering from long-term COVID.
“Every time there seems to be an increase, about four to six weeks later, we see more interest in our clinic,” Leong told OCR. She further noted that she has seen a slight shift towards patients in their 30s and younger, and more remarkably, she largely sees patients who are unvaccinated.
The criteria for prolonged COVID are all symptoms that persist for 12 weeks after the first infection.
“For every 10 people diagnosed with COVID-19, at least one of them will have long-term COVID symptoms,” Leong added.
The UCI Health COVID-19 Recovery Service is staffed by internists who treat the entire patient, not just the symptoms, making the program unique compared to other local programs. The program’s physicians also work to educate local physicians on how to recognize long COVID in patients and share best practices for how to treat patients, including therapies and medications.
Dealing with mental health issues and the impact of COVID-19 on patients’ mental health is also a focus of the program. Mental health services are stretched thin across the country, with patients having to wait up to three months for an appointment. Every patient seen in the COVID-19 Recovery Service undergoes a mental health screening process. Those identified as at risk for depression or other mental health issues are given tools such as free mindful and training classes and access to support groups.
“As internists, we have knowledge of the treatment of mental illness,” he said Dr. Long-Co Nguyen, UCI Health Primary Physician Supervising UCI Health COVID Recovery Service. “More than half of our long-covid patients would benefit from mental health care.”